Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region here.

East Region

Favorite: #1 Syracuse (31-2, 17-1 Big East). Despite losing to Cincinnati in the Big East semifinals, the Orange are the clear favorites and will have plenty of fans in Beantown to cheer them on, assuming they advance. SU features a transition attack that’s arguably the best in the nation, usually sparked by Dion Waiters off the bench.

Jim Boeheim and Syracuse Are The Favorites, But The Path to New Orleans Is Loaded With Tough Opponents (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Ohio State (27-7, 13-5 Big Ten). I was tempted to slot #3 Florida State in this space but the Seminoles are too inconsistent for my liking to be a legitimate Final Four threat. Ohio State is a terrific team but not nearly as good as last year’s outfit which had Jon Diebler to bury a perimeter jumper. Even so, the Buckeyes are still capable of reaching New Orleans.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Texas (20-13, 9-9 Big 12). This is an exaggeration because I thought the Selection Committee did a very nice job with the seeding across all regions. But I have to pick someone, right? I’ll go with the Longhorns, a team I didn’t have in my projected field of 68. Texas has four RPI top 50 wins but three of those came against teams seeded on the eighth line in this tournament. The Longhorns are 4-11 against top 100 competition, a fact that I felt should have kept them out of the Big Dance.

Grossly Underseeded: #5 Vanderbilt (24-10, 10-6 SEC). Again, this is a very minor quibble. As I said before, I thought the Committee did an admirable job seeding the teams. I had Vanderbilt pegged for a #4 seed after beating the best team in the country (Kentucky) in the SEC championship on Sunday. The Commodores won 16 games against the RPI top 100, with two of those coming against top 10 opponents either on the road (Marquette) or a neutral site (Kentucky). In fact, only one of Vandy’s five RPI top 25 wins has come at home. That’s impressive and an indicator of a team that can do some damage in this event despite its recent history of early flameouts.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Tournament Daily Diary, Semifinals Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East Correspondent for RTC. He is reporting from the Big East Tournament all week, and will sum up his thoughts on the day’s action each evening. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Syracuse took a punch from Cincinnati right out of the gate on Friday evening and the Orange failed to do enough to get back on their feet. Behind a stellar performance by Sean Kilpatrick and the solid interior play of Yancy Gates, the Bearcats advanced to their first-ever Big East final, where they will take on Louisville in Saturday night’s edition of “Conference USA has come to the Big Apple,” as Rick Pitino put it. The Cardinals jumped on Notre Dame from the start and never looked back. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng had terrific games for Pitino, who will face his former assistant Mick Cronin for all the marbles.

  • This time around, Syracuse got burned in the half court – It was an outstanding game plan by Mick Cronin. The Bearcats featured a tough zone that cut off driving lanes, deflected passes and gang rebounded. It helped quite a bit that Cincinnati was on fire from deep in the first half but it was UC’s zone that won the game. Syracuse was out of sync for 30 minutes and couldn’t make a big play when it needed to. Jim Boeheim said they played well over the last 10 minutes but obviously that wasn’t enough in a full 40-minute game. I think this is a legitimate concern for Syracuse going forward and I mentioned it in this spot yesterday. Aside from Mr. Instant Offense himself, Dion Waiters (28 points), Syracuse failed its test against a team that is tough, physical and can keep them in the half court. SU had only two fast break points all game, never able to utilize perhaps the best transition game in the nation. The Orange have the talent to win the national title but I’m not so sure they can win six straight games that will feature fewer transition opportunities and more conservative approaches. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tracking The Four: Regular Season Recap, Postseason Prospects

Posted by EJacoby on March 7th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest — Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV — by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

It was a wild ride for our four teams this year, yet the most important games are just beginning. All four teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament and will have high hopes to do some damage in the postseason. But before Selection Sunday comes, let’s take a look at how each team finished its regular season and what its prospects are for postseason play. Murray State, of course, finished its regular season early and already completed its postseason tournament as part of one of the mid-major leagues that began Championship Week last weekend. The Racers are OVC champions and we will preview their NCAA Tournament outlook while looking at the other three teams’ conference tourney prospects.

Murray State Racers

Murray State Took Down the OVC and Looks Strong Heading into the Big Dance (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Racers are on fire since losing their only game of the season and continue to look better and better. They finished off the season with impressive wins at Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech. That earned them a double-bye in the OVC Tournament where they only had to win one game before the finals, and oddly enough the two teams that Murray matched up with in the conference bracket were the two teams with which it had ended the season. Victories over Tennessee Tech (a blowout) and Tennessee State (a nailbiter) proved that this team can win in a variety of ways and that it is peaking heading into postseason play.
  • Resume Review – Murray State finishes tied with the nation’s best overall record at 30-1, which could be the outright best record if neither Syracuse nor Kentucky wins its conference tournaments. The Racers finished 17-1 against OVC competition with an RPI of #24. They went 3-0 against the RPI top-50, with good wins at Memphis and against Southern Miss on a neutral floor. Their only loss was a ‘bad’ one, at home against Tennessee State’s #117 RPI. Murray State’s Pomeroy/Sagarin/BPI/LRMC rankings are as follows: #45/#40/#33/#29. Very solid all-around.
  • Seed Projection – Since all of its games are now completed, we can start projecting Murray State’s NCAA Tournament seed accurately. This team is looking like a #5 or #6 seed according to the consensus bracketologists around the country, though I believe it is closer to a #4 than it is a #6. A #5-seed seems about right, which could possibly mean they’d play in Nashville or Louisville for their first two rounds next week.
  • Player DevelopmentsIsaiah Canaan is the runaway OVC Player of the Year and will receive consideration for national All-America teams as the stellar guard continues to play at an elite level. He averaged 19.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per gamein his final five contests and continues to shoot lights out from three. Ivan Aska has struggled down the stretch, failing to record double-digit scoring or rebounding games in any of his last five. Murray State will desperately need his contributions against the bigger opponent it is likely to draw in the first round.
  • Notable Numbers - Murray State’s +10.5 adjusted scoring margin is very similar to other potential #5- or #6-seeds like Louisville, Vanderbilt, and St. Mary’s. The Racers finished the season with the sixth-best three-point shooting percentage in the country (40.6%) and allowed opponents to shoot just 29.5% from three, ranked 16th best. That’s a tremendous margin. This team also finished with a top-15 free throw rate, true shooting percentage, and steal percentage. The Racers want to send high pressure defensively to look for steals, get out in transition, and hit open threes. This helps hide the fact that they are such a small team inside.
  • Preview & Predictions! – All that’s left for this team is the Big Dance. Therefore, it’s really impossible to predict success without seeing the bracket. However, I don’t think this team is going to be upset in its first game unless it gets a really rough matchup. Assuming a #5 seed, Murray should draw one of the middling bubble teams from a power conference, and it just has to hope it gets someone like Tennessee or Northwestern rather than someone like UConn (sporting great size). From there, we need to see the matchups before declaring whether this team could make the Sweet Sixteen.

Syracuse Orange

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Orange finished on a 10-game winning streak and have locked up an NCAA Tournament #1 seed regardless of what happens in the Big East Tournament. The Orange will receive a double-bye and don’t need to play until Thursday, where they will already be in the quarterfinals. Their final five wins were all by 10 points or less, so the scoring margins have not been dominant but the experience of closing out close games should be just as important for Syracuse going forward.
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Big East Wrap-Up And Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Conference Tournament Preview

  • Can Anyone Beat Syracuse? – Yes, but only a handful of teams are capable. Notre Dame has proven they can do it and I feel Marquette has a solid chance. Georgetown took the Orange to overtime by slowing the pace and exposing Syracuse’s rebounding issues. In my opinion, those are the only three teams who can knock off the Orange. Given the Madison Square Garden crowd is going to be highly in favor of Syracuse, this is a tall order for any team to pull off.
  • Bubble Teams With Work To Do – South Florida, Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia, the pressure is officially on. I think USF and SH have the most work to do. The Bulls and Pirates won’t feel safe unless they win two games at the Garden and even that may not be enough depending what happens in other conference tournaments. Seton Hall absolutely has to beat Providence and Louisville back to back and then put up a solid showing against Marquette in a quarterfinal game. South Florida has a bye but must knock off Rutgers/Villanova before beating Notre Dame the next night. Connecticut has plenty of top 50 wins and strong computer numbers so I feel they’re safe provided they get by DePaul on Tuesday. As for West Virginia, the win at South Florida on Saturday was critical. The Mountaineers earned a first-round bye and will likely play Connecticut at noon on Wednesday. I think WVU is going to be in regardless, but beating the Huskies should lock up a bid for sure.
  • Is There A Sleeper Team? – I doubt it, but South Florida, Connecticut and even St. John’s would be my candidates. The Bulls can win an ugly game against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, but UConn may actually have the best draw. The Huskies open up with DePaul, coincidentally the same exact matchup as last season. They’ll face a West Virginia team they’ve beat already in the second round. Should they advance to the quarters, Connecticut will go up against Syracuse. The Huskies have played fairly well against the Orange twice this season and would have a reasonable chance to pull the upset. St. John’s is a team that’s playing better basketball and drew a favorable bracket. It wouldn’t shock me if St. John’s lost its opening round game but, playing on its home floor, the Johnnies could surprise.

Regular Season Recap

You could say this was easily a down year in the Big East, but the conference does have ten teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament as the season winds down, only one fewer than last season. However, the league is clearly not as strong from top to bottom. Syracuse was dominant, but no team came close to challenging the Orange for conference supremacy all year. The Orange were projected to win the league in my preseason conference primer, but it was my second and third place teams who completely flopped. Pittsburgh and Connecticut had highly disappointing seasons, even though the Huskies are still in the NCAA picture. The Panthers finished 16-15 (5-13), good enough for 13th place. Jamie Dixon’s squad was hurt by injuries and a notable defection, but on the court, this team did not defend at a high level. Pitt finished the regular season ranked 161st nationally in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their average of #27 over Dixon’s previous eight seasons on the sidelines at the Petersen Events Center. Ashton Gibbs had a disappointing senior season and the team was never able to put it together at any point.

As for the teams that surprised, you can start with South Florida. The Bulls were nothing more than an afterthought as late as January, but a commitment to defense and the play of freshman point guard Anthony Collins has vaulted the Bulls to the brink of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. Although USF has just one top 50 win, this season has been a rousing success for the men from Tampa, who played all of their home games away from the Sun Dome due to renovations. Stan Heath may have saved his job in the process.

Marquette, Notre Dame and Georgetown were also surprises. Those teams were projected to finish sixth, ninth and tenth, respectively, in our conference preview. Marquette looks like a threat to go very deep in the NCAA Tournament while Notre Dame’s style of play and Georgetown’s defense will keep them in pretty much any game they play. The Golden Eagles have two of the best player in the conference and an unquenchable will to win.

As for the teams that projected out according to form, Cincinnati went 12-6 in the league as predicted, Rutgers went 6-12 and Providence went 3-15. In addition to those three, West Virginia, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul finished about where they were expected to. The Mountaineers and Pirates have a chance for the NCAA’s while St. John’s showed some late-season progress and could be a tough out on their home court at Madison Square Garden this week. Louisville finished 22-9 (10-8), three games worse than where I had projected it. The Cardinals started the year hot, but went just 10-9 after sprinting out to a 12-0 record through December 23.

Villanova was another team that disappointed. The Wildcats weren’t expected to be great, but many thought they could find their way to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Villanova struggled all year as players who were expected to improve did not before injuries took a huge toll on the Wildcats late in the season. Villanova’s future is relatively bright, but this was definitely a lost season on the Main Line. VU’s streak of seven consecutive NCAA appearances will come to an end unless there is some divine intervention in the form of five wins in five days in New York.

Jim Boeheim And The Orange Have Locked Up A One-Seed, But Will Reports Of Unpunished Failed Drug Tests Knock Them Off Their Path? (Mark Konezny/US Presswire)

Coach of the Year

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse – This was a really tough choice. Do you go with the coach of the best team by far or pick someone like Stan Heath or Mike Brey who led teams projected in the bottom half to finishes closer to the top of the league? Guys like Buzz Williams and John Thompson III also deserve consideration. In the end I chose Boeheim because this year’s Syracuse team was historic. Sure, I picked them to win the league from the start, but in no way did I think this team would go 30-1 (17-1). The Orange are the first team in Big East history to get through the entire regular season with only a single loss. Boeheim has assembled a rotation that can go ten deep and kept the team focused through some off-court distractions. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason and was the best coach in the league this season.

Player of the Year

Jae Crowder, Marquette – This may be a controversial choice to some, but here’s why I picked Crowder over Kevin Jones. Yes, Jones had better statistics throughout the year, but Crowder has out-played Jones over the last month and plays for a team considerably better than West Virginia. Plus, what fun would it be if we just looked at the statistics and ignored intangibles? Crowder averaged 24.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his last six and won the head-to-head matchup with Jones in convincing fashion on February 24. Crowder put up very similar numbers using 21.9% of his team’s possessions compared to 23.3% for Jones. Not a huge difference, but I feel it matters when one team is 25-6 (14-4) while the other is 19-12 (9-9) and has lost seven of its last 11 games heading into the postseason. Crowder, along with Darius Johnson-Odom, has put Marquette on his back and carried it to heights not seen since Dwayne Wade played at the Bradley Center. He’s played his best ball at the right time while Jones has not led his team in nearly the same manner down the stretch. Crowder is also a better defender (2.4 steals per game) and a more efficient shooter from inside as well as the perimeter. I felt that also helped to push him over the top. I don’t have a problem with either player winning the award, but I usually go for the player on the better team when it’s a close call like this is.

All-Conference First Team

  • Jae Crowder, Marquette (17.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 51.2% FG) – Crowder was the do-it-all player for the Golden Eagles, leading them to their best regular season record since a 23-4 mark in 2002-03.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia (20.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 51.5% FG) – Without Jones, the Mountaineers would be in the bottom third of the league. The senior had the best season of his career, leading the conference in scoring and rebounding pretty much from start to finish.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (18.3 PPG, 40.1% 3FG) – Crowder and DJO form perhaps the most potent one-two punch in college basketball on a team that could be a Final Four sleeper.
  • Kris Joseph, Syracuse (14.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG) – The amazing thing about Syracuse is not one player on a 30-1 (17-1) team is in the top 18 in scoring. Joseph ranks 19th, but came up big when it mattered most, averaging 17 points for the Orange in their six games decided by five points or less.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut (17.6 PPG, 47.5% FG, 82.6% FT) – Connecticut underachieved, but the best returning player from last year’s national championship squad posted double figures in all but three games for a team that struggled to find its way on the offensive end. A career-high 32 points in a late season win at Villanova just might have saved his team’s season (at least for now).

A Late-Season Push Propelled Jae Crowder Past Kevin Jones For Player Of The Year Honors.

All-Conference Second Team

  • Vincent Council, Providence (16.2 PPG, 7.5 APG) – A lot of people may not know about Council, but that’s about to change next season when Providence welcomes in more talent to be on the receiving end of passes from the best assist man in the Big East.
  • Scoop Jardine, Syracuse (8.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, 47.7% FG) – The statistics aren’t eye-popping,  but Jardine was the point guard for a team that lost once in 31 games. He took much better care of the basketball this season and improved his shooting efficiency despite a drop in scoring from last year. On a team with ten legitimate players, he doesn’t need to score in double figures.
  • Jordan Theodore, Seton Hall (16.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.9 SPG) – Not surprisingly, Seton Hall’s season went as Theodore’s did. When he was on, he looked like the best point guard in the conference (29 points, 5 assists against Georgetown). When he wasn’t (10 points, 5 turnovers against DePaul), Seton Hall looked awful. Despite the inconsistency from the senior, Theodore deserves the bulk of the credit for getting the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
  • Jason Clark, Georgetown (14.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 47.8% FG) – Underappreciated for four seasons in Washington, Clark led his team in scoring and vaulted the Hoyas well into the top 25 after they were projected to be a bubble team in the preseason. Clark was a model of consistency and a great glue guy on a strong defensive team.
  • Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 62.1% FG) – Cooley came out of nowhere to become the anchor in the paint for a Notre Dame team that took the conference by storm. He recorded a double-double in six of his last eight games and would be my pick for most-improved player.

Honorable Mention

  • Dion Waiters, Syracuse (11.9 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 47.1% FG) – Perhaps the best sixth man in the nation, Waiters sees starter’s minutes on one of the elite teams in the nation. A spark on both ends of the floor with his dynamic transition game, Waiters’ improvement is a big factor in Syracuse’s success.
  • Henry Sims, Georgetown (11.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 BPG) – It’s not often you see a 6’10” player lead his team in assists, but that’s exactly what Sims did (and by a wide margin). A candidate for most improved player, Sims was a major reason why Georgetown exceeded preseason expectations.
  • Cleveland Melvin, DePaul (17.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) – Melvin has been a solid player for two years now. It’s too bad he plays on a bad team.
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall (15.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) – A very early frontrunner for conference POY honors, Pope’s production really tailed off in conference play.  Still, his presence in the middle and strong rebounding is vital to the Hall’s success.
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova (17.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 89.3% FT) – Wayns will never be confused with efficiency, but he’s a guard who can create contact and get to the line with the best of them. One of the better free throw shooters in the nation knows how to play to his strengths.

All-Freshmen Team

  • Moe Harkless, St. John’s (15.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG) – Harkless put up some dominant numbers right away because he was able to see plenty of minutes on a thin team, but he’s a terrific piece to build around as the Johnnies move forward. A special talent.
  • Anthony Collins, South Florida (8.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 49.3% FG) – Almost singlehandedly, Collins has willed the Bulls to the brink of the NCAA Tournament. After missing five games with an injury, Collins took over the point guard duties and led South Florida to a 12-6 conference record.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence (14.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 40.2% 3FG) – Henton was a surprise on a Friars team that remained competitive despite a poor record. Henton was thrown into the fire right away, playing 37.1 minutes per game on a very thin team. He responded well and didn’t hit a wall late in the season as most freshmen do.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s (17.0 PPG) – Harkless’ sidekick actually led St. John’s in scoring and played his best basketball in February.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown (9.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 51.0% FG) – A player with a great motor who has a ton of upside, Porter has a high basketball IQ and the toughness needed to excel in Georgetown’s system. He’s as good of a rebounder as I’ve seen for a freshman.

Defensive Player of the Year

Fab Melo, Syracuse (3.1 BPG) – Melo led the conference by a wide margin in blocks in conference games (3.73), but finished behind Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng in the block totals for all games. Melo’s presence anchoring Syracuse’s zone changed so many shots and made it easier for Syracuse to defend opponents on the perimeter. When he didn’t play against Notre Dame, the Irish went wild from deep because the Orange didn’t have their big man on the back line to defend drives. A case can be made for Dieng, but Melo was a dominant force defensively for the nation’s #2 team.

Game of the Year

January 21 – Notre Dame 67, Syracuse 58: There is no clear-cut winner for this award, but I’m going to go with Syracuse’s only loss of the season. Notre Dame handed the Orange, playing without Fab Melo, their first and only loss of the season. The Fighting Irish shot 50% for the game and won by a score of 67-58, Notre Dame’s first win against a top-ranked opponent in 25 years. However, it was ND’s eighth win all time against a #1 team and seventh in South Bend. It was a magical night for the Irish and the first win in what would become a nine-game winning streak, a decisive run that pushed Notre Dame solidly into the NCAA Tournament field.

Other nominees: Marquette 61, West Virginia 60 (February 24). Syracuse 64, Georgetown 61 (OT, February 8). Notre Dame 67, Louisville 65 (2OT, January 7). Georgetown 73, Marquette 70 (January 4).

An Outstanding Point Guard In Anthony Collins Has USF In The Running For A Tournament Bid.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) – The Orange are playing with house money in New York as they are a lock for a #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has a tough draw with West Virginia or UConn waiting in the quarters before going up against possibly Cincinnati or Georgetown in the semifinals on Friday night. The only question could be if the Orange play the Big East Tournament on cruise control, knowing their NCAA situation is secure.
  2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) – Marquette is playing the best basketball of any team outside of central New York. The Golden Eagles won 13 of their last 15 games and can absolutely win this tournament. A BET win could give Buzz Williams’ team a #2 seed in the big dance.
  3. Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) – This team has been solid all year, but its normally stout defense was exposed in late season losses to Seton Hall and Marquette. The Hoyas gave Syracuse all it could handle on February 8 at the Carrier Dome and another meeting at MSG isn’t out of the question. Georgetown will get a nice seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Hoyas have to bring it defensively in order to avoid another early exit.
  4. Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6) – Despite a horrid non-conference schedule, the Bearcats have plenty of top 50 wins on their resume. I believe this team should be and will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in New York. Still, beating Georgetown/St. John’s/Pitt in the quarterfinals wouldn’t hurt. Cincinnati won five of its last six games, making a strong case to the NCAA Committee in the process.
  5. Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) – The Irish lost two of their last three games, but it was a remarkable season for Mike Brey’s squad. Considered to be done after losing Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame re-invented itself and locked up a tournament bid with a one month long nine-game winning streak. The Fighting Irish are a threat in the bottom part of this week’s bracket.
  6. South Florida (19-12, 12-6) – It was encouraging to see the Bulls go into Louisville and win the game they had to have. It was a wildly successful season for USF. The team completely changed its trajectory when Anthony Collins returned from injury and played at an extremely high level. The Bulls have plenty of work to do this week but pass the eye test to some. It seems crazy, but USF won 12 Big East games and has just one RPI top 50 win. That says a lot about the strength of this year’s Big East.
  7. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) – A few weeks ago, most folks were praising Louisville for getting back on track. Since February 13, it has been a different story. The Cardinals have lost four of their last six games heading into the conference tournamen,t but will still be headed to the NCAA Tournament next week. Louisville’s two wins during this stretch? Overtime at DePaul and a home squeaker over a bad Pitt team. Barring a huge effort to refocus this week, Louisville is ripe for the picking by Seton Hall or Providence in its second round game.
  8. West Virginia (19-12, 9-9) – It wasn’t pretty, but the Mountaineers took care of business at South Florida to get back to .500 in the league. West Virginia is right about where most had them at the beginning of the season despite losing seven of 11 games down the stretch. Kevin Jones had an outstanding year and this team remains a threat in New York and in the NCAA Tournament, assuming it gets there. WVU could win a game or two in the big dance.
  9. Connecticut (18-12, 8-10) – It was a rough year for the Huskies, but they have a chance to start over and turn it around this week at MSG. Connecticut will start exactly where it started a year ago when it beat DePaul, the first of 11 straight victories en route to a national championship. This team won’t do that again, but I could realistically see it winning two or three games this week. I believe the Huskies should be in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to DePaul would significantly complicate matters.
  10. Seton Hall (19-11, 8-10) – When you have a chance to get to your first NCAA Tournament in six years, it’s not good to shoot yourself in the foot. That’s exactly what Seton Hall did with consecutive late season losses to Rutgers and DePaul. The Pirates were blown out of Chicago in absolutely embarrassing fashion and now probably have to win at least two games to keep their NCAA chances alive. The Hall has quality wins over Georgetown, Connecticut, West Virginia and VCU as well as victories over bubble squads Dayton and St. Joe’s, but those two bad losses will sting. You can put the Pirates to bed if they lose to Providence on Tuesday night, a game that won’t be easy for Seton Hall.
  11. Rutgers (14-17, 6-12) – You can’t win big in the Big East with young players and that’s the issue Rutgers faced this year. Mike Rice is building the program in solid fashion, but Rutgers still has a ways to go. Next year could be the year Rutgers starts to turn the corner and gets into contention for some kind of postseason bid. The Scarlet Knights won’t be an easy out at MSG.
  12. St. John’s (13-18, 6-12) – Mike Dunlap did an admirable job filling in for Steve Lavin this season as the Red Storm saw player defections and persevered with one of the thinnest and youngest rosters you will ever see. St. John’s was competitive and seemed to play better basketball as the season progressed. The Johnnies won three straight games late in the season but enter this week’s tournament on a two game losing streak. Still, I wouldn’t want to play SJU at the Garden.
  13. Pittsburgh (16-15, 5-13) – The departure of Khem Birch and injury to Tray Woodall derailed any hope this team had of turning the season around after early losses to Long Beach State and Wagner. The Panthers floundered in conference play, losing their first seven games. Pitt provided us with some hope when it won four straight from January 25 to February 5 but then proceeded to lose six of its final seven after that. With West Virginia going to the Big 12 next season, will Pittsburgh and Syracuse try to follow suit and settle with the Big East to get out earlier than expected?
  14. Villanova (12-18, 5-13) – What a miserable season for Jay Wright. The Wildcats have been to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but didn’t come close to extending that streak this year. Villanova stumbled right out of the gate, losing four games before mid-December. The future is brighter with everyone coming back next year, but Wright has a lot of work to do in order to get this team on the same page over the summer.
  15. Providence (15-16, 4-14) – Despite losing 14 conference games, the Friars were competitive. Ed Cooley is going to get it going rather quickly in Friartown, especially with a ballyhooed recruiting class coming in next season. LaDontae Henton surprised many observers as a freshman and should be a big piece going forward along with superb point guard Vincent Council, who will lead the team as a senior in 2012-13.
  16. DePaul (12-18, 3-15) – The Blue Demons won only three times in league play but saved their best for last, blowing out Seton Hall this past Saturday in Chicago. Oliver Purnell has clearly established his style of play, now it’s up to him to get better players in the mix. Cleveland Melvin is underappreciated because he plays on this team, but he’s a nice piece to build around. You have to believe Purnell will eventually get DePaul back to respectability, but the process will be a long one.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.06.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 6th, 2012

  1. The Big East handed out a few more postseason superlatives yesterday. Syracuse center Fab Melo highlighted the selections as he was named the Defensive Player of the Year. Melo, who was likely also a candidate for Most Improved Player, had a breakout season for the Orange. The seven-foot sophomore averaged 3.9 blocks per game in Big East play to lead the league to go with 6.1 rebounds but it was Melo’s presence and activity in that vaunted Syracuse zone that set him apart. Speaking of the Most Improved Player, that honor went to Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley. After playing just 10.3 minutes and scoring 3.7 points per game as last year, the 6’9” junior nearly averaged a double-double this season (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG). Cooley earned a second-team All-Big East distinction on Sunday and was a fixture in this season’s Big East weekly honors, garnering Player of the Week once to go with six Honor Rolls. This year’s Sixth Man Award will come as a shock to no one. Syracuse’s Dion Waiters has been described as the team’s best player, and thrived in his off-the-bench role on the nation’s deepest team. Waiters, a sophomore guard, was the Orange’s second leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, to go with 2.4 assists per contest. Finally, the Sportsmanship Award went to Georgetown’s Jason Clark. The senior guard, who is also an All-Big East first-teamer this year, has been involved with Georgetown related community service organizations. Big East Player, Coach, Rookie and Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be announced today between the afternoon and evening sessions of the Big East Championship.
  2. With all of the Big East honors rolling out over the past couple of days, we cannot forget the final installment of the conference’s weekly distinctions. West Virginia’s Kevin Jones is your Player of the Week.  Jones looked to solidify his case for Player of the Year with typically monster efforts two Mountaineer wins, averaging 20.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. Providence’s LaDontae Henton took home his third Rookie of the Week award of the season, averaging 18.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in a 1-1 week for the Friars. Henton, a candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year, averaged 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for the regular season, while shooting 40.2 % from three-point range. This week’s Honor Roll recipients: Marquette’s Jae Crowder kept pace with Kevin Jones in the Player of the Year race by averaging 21.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals in a 1-1 week; DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin who averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, including 14 points and nine boards in the Blue Demons’ thrashing of Seton Hall; Rutgers’ Dane Miller who averaged 13.0 points and 9.5 rebounds including a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) in the Scarlet Knights’ victory over St. John’s; Cincinnati’s JaQuon Parker registered a career-high 28 points coupled with seven rebounds in the Bearcats’ huge win over Marquette. Syracuse’s Brandon Triche closes out the Honor Roll. Triche registered 18 points, four rebounds and four assists in Syracuse’s regular-season finale, a win over Louisville.
  3. The Nerlens Noel watch continues as it was reported yesterday the 6’10 center will visit Georgetown this weekend. Last month Noel announced his intention to reclassify to the class of 2012, and quickly became the number-one rated prospect in that group. In addition to the Hoyas, Noel is considering Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and Connecticut. Noel is scheduled to be in attendance with Georgetown players and coaches while the NCAA tournament field is selected. Of course it is a field that will include 22-7 Hoyas and, as pointed out by CasualHoya.com, selection Sunday visits have been a successful recruiting tactic for Georgetown in the past.
  4. Fans and pundits alike will be focused this week on conference tournament performance as we rumble toward selection Sunday and rightfully so, but it never hurts to that number next to your name. Louisville no longer has one has the Cardinals, ranked 19th last week, plummeted out of the polls following back-to-back regular season ending losses to South Florida and Syracuse.  Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) continued to roll but remained stuck behind Kentucky at #2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) had an even week, losing to Cincinnati while beating Georgetown but slipped one spot to #9. The afore mentioned Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) fell two rungs to #13 because they were distracted by the prospect of Nerlens Noel dropping by. The lone remaining ranked team in the Big East is Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) at #23, but the Fighting Irish also trended in the wrong direction moving down three notches after being stifled by the Hoyas. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) did remain on the cusp of a ranking, gaining 84 votes and Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6), winners of five of their last six games, checked in with five votes.
  5. Look for a more comprehensive Big East tournament preview from us here later this morning but as a bit of a primer Seton Hall, a team with a lot on the line this week, may have to go to battle a bit banged up and short-handed.  Guard Aaron Cosby, who averaged 30.1 minutes per game during the regular season, has the flu per South Orange Juice and could miss this evening’s game against Providence. Further, the site also reports star big man Herb Pope, who injured his toe on Saturday in the Pirates’ loss to DePaul, was seen wearing a walking boot.  While the severity of the injury is not known, it is expected that Pope will play. Aaron Geramipoor is a player who would figure to have an increased role should Pope be limited, but is also expected to miss the game as he continues to battle a hip injury that has held him out the last two games and limited him for the past month.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.02.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 2nd, 2012

  1. This evening figures to be an unusual one emotionally for injured senior star Tim Abromaitis once senior night festivities commence prior to Notre Dame’s contest with Providence.  Abromaitis has been forced to watch for the majority of this season due to an ACL tear he suffered in November, and is trying to make peace with the fact that his career at Notre Dame may very well be over. The thing that will keep Abromaitis in a state of emotional flux is the battle between the finality of senior night and the faint glimmer of hope that he may be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility and play for the Irish again next year.  As for tonight, Abromaitis will suit up for show but will not play in any fashion, including warm-ups. To Abromaitis’ credit he is keeping things in perspective and holds no delusions of grandeur when it comes to playing again.  “I’ve kind of looked at it both ways – there’s a chance I’m coming back, so do what I need to do to keep that door open,” Abromaitis told the Chicago Tribune. “But at the same time, I am pretty rational about knowing that it very well could be the last time out there and could be a little emotional for me. I’m just trying to take it in stride and be glad for the opportunities I have had.”
  2. Villanova has not enjoyed tremendous success on the court this season but they could be receiving some good news about their future very soon as top Class of 2013 recruit Allerik Freeman narrowed his choices to Villanova and Kansas according to his Olympic (NC) High School coach Ty Baumgardner.  Freeman, a 6’4” guard who is ranked 13th nationally by ESPN.com and 24th by Rivals.com had been pursued by the likes of Georgetown, Arizona, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, and others. Freeman has visited both Villanova and Kansas unofficially, meaning he paid his way, and could decide before taking any official visits.
  3. In keeping with the high school scene, rosters for the All-American Championship were announced yesterday.  The event, which started last year, is an all-star showcase that features four teams who will play a doubleheader on April 1 in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.  ESPN3 will carry the games live beginning at 3 PM EST and ESPNU will replay at 9 PM EST. Two highly sought-after Big East 2012 recruits, Nerlens Noel and Chris Obekpa, will be playing in the game.  Noel recently trimmed his list but Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut still appear to be in the running.  Obekpa’s list includes Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, St. John’s, Providence and West Virginia. Highly touted high school juniors and brothers, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, will be there as well.  Both are being recruited by Villanova while Andrew also holds an offer from Georgetown. There are also a number of committed Big East players who will appear: Omar Calhoun (Connecticut), Ricardo Ledo (Providence), Dajuan Coleman (Syracuse), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown) and Cameron Biedscheid (Notre Dame).
  4. Perhaps Connecticut fans will be treated to a Willis Reed-like event, but it is not looking like head coach Jim Calhoun will make his return to the sideline on Saturday as hoped when the Huskies take on Pittsburgh.  Calhoun is reported to be feeling better after surgery on Monday to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by a spine-thinning condition called spinal stenosis as well as a “large disk fragment” that was found when doctors went in, but was not able to attend practice on Thursday.  Should Calhoun not be ready for Connecticut’s practice this afternoon it renders his chances of coaching on Saturday to virtually nil.  The Huskies (17-13, 7-10 Big East) somewhat remarkably remain in contention for an at-large NCAA berth despite their well-documented struggles. A loss on Saturday would certainly figure to firmly put them on the outside looking in, even in the minds of the pundits.
  5. The Naismith Men’s Basketball Player of the Year is obviously a huge honor and just to be considered is certainly something to be proud of.  To that end, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced its somewhat oddly named ‘Midseason 30’, which is a a list of the 30 finalists for the award.  Four Big East players made the cut: Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, and two from Syracuse in Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters. The Naismith recipient will be announced and awarded during the Final Four, which we presume implies that the second “half” of the season will be played in the next four weeks.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.

#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

  • The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.

    Can Denmon & The Tigers Rebound?

  • Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
  •  The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.

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Tracking The Four: Voices of…

Posted by EJacoby on February 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

The ‘wildcard’ version of TT4 is back, and this week we take a look at the voices of each team. Below you’ll find key quotes throughout the season from players, coaches, and media members who cover each of our four squads. With just three games remaining (or less) for each team in the regular season, it’s an appropriate time to take the pulse of the programs before they head into the home stretch:

Tom Crean Has Had Much to Say This Season for the Surprising Hoosiers (AP Photo/A. Colwell)

Indiana Hoosiers

  • “They’ve been punking us the past couple years and we realized that. This year we had to go toe-to-toe with them.” Guard Victor Oladipo, 12/31 (after win over Ohio State)
  • “Our mindset is next man up.  We know that a lot of different people at different times can step up and make a play that helps us win games on either offense or defense.  We have done a good job of being unselfish and worrying only about getting the win.” Guard Jordan Hulls, 1/3
  • “The bottom line is this team gritted it out again. They have won 14 games 14 different ways with a lot of room for improvement, and I’m excited about them.” Coach Tom Crean, 1/5
  • “We can’t be satisfied with moral victories.” Center Cody Zeller, 1/18
  • “I think the most difficult thing to swallow from one game to another, though, is simply the consistency of this basketball team in recent weeks. You really just don’t know what you’re going to get from week to week, game to game, minute to minute. And that’s what I find to be the big difference between the 15-1 start and the 2-5 record since then. It comes down to consistency. And it’s across the board.” Beat writer Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star, 2/2
  • “If you’re going to get physical with [Zeller], he’s going to respond. The only soft thing about Cody is that he’s soft-spoken on the court, but other than that he’s a tough, tough person.” Coach Tom Crean, 2/9

Murray State Racers

  • “Coach has a great personality and he cares about our team more than anything, and the same way he cares about us we care about him and we try to go out and play as hard as we can for him.” Guard Isaiah Canaan, 12/15
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Big East Adds Memphis: While conference realignment is unfortunately all about football, the addition of Memphis to the Big East Conference is a boon for basketball. With the league losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, it needed a strong basketball program to limit the damage of three venerable programs departing. Memphis is perhaps the best the Big East could do from a basketball perspective and the Tigers will begin competing in the conference in the 2013-14 academic year. While the Big East cannot replace a program with the stature of Syracuse, Memphis is arguably at least as good, if not better, than Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple would be the next logical choice from a basketball perspective but Villanova has long been rumored to be firmly in opposition to the Owls joining the league. Conference realignment is a new reality and won’t end any time soon. Expect some more dominoes to fall over the coming months and years.
  • West Virginia Reportedly Settles: Just 36 hours after Memphis joined the Big East, West Virginia reportedly settled with the Big East on an exit agreement, although no official announcement was made. If the Charleston Daily Mail report is correct, West Virginia will leave the Big East on July 1 of this year in order to join the Big 12 Conference. The reported agreement says that WVU will pay the Big East $11 million, with the Big 12 contributing $9 million. Big East bylaws require all member institutions to give 27 months notice before leaving the conference. If the Mountaineers do leave the conference, the Big East will have 15 basketball members for next season (2012-13) before expanding again in the summer of 2013. Of course, West Virginia’s early exit could pave the way for agreements with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, allowing those schools to leave early for the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, the Big East will have 13 basketball teams in 2012-13. One thing is for sure, this story is far from over. Stay tuned.
  • NCAA Denies Connecticut’s Waiver Request: In what was another good move by the increasingly tough NCAA, the governing body denied a request by Connecticut to retain eligibility for the 2013 NCAA Tournament in exchange for self-imposed penalties. Those penalties included forfeiting revenue and playing a shorter schedule. The Huskies would not quality for next year’s tournament because of their low APR rating, below the four-year minimum requirement of 900 or two-year average of 930. UConn will appeal the decision, one that, if denied, could have a huge effect on the basketball program in Storrs. Will Jim Calhoun stick around? Will recruits want to come there and knowingly sit out a year? Many questions still need to be answered as the Connecticut basketball program enters a period of uncertainty.
  • Win Number 880 for Jim Boeheim: The Syracuse legend now stands alone in third place on the all-time Division I wins list behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight after Syracuse beat Georgetown last week. Number 880 is one better than Dean Smith, a legend in his own right at North Carolina. While it is unlikely that Boeheim can catch Krzyzewski since both will keep winning, the Orange coach can pass Knight early next season, especially if Syracuse goes on a deep NCAA Tournament run. It’s so rare to see an athlete or a coach stay at one school for his entire career in sports these days but that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. The Hall of Famer has been at Syracuse as a coach since 1969 and played for the Orange from 1962-66. What a truly remarkable career spanning 50 years (and still going strong).

Josh Pastner Looks Forward To Embracing A More Challenging Change of Scenery In The Big East

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 02.13.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Louisville has owned Syracuse over the last six years. Will that continue this evening? In the Big 12, Kansas State faces a huge game with in-state rival Kansas. Big Monday is just that on this night. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

#2 Syracuse @ Louisville – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

Louisville Has Owned the Orange in Recent Years (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

  • Syracuse has won five straight games since losing at Notre Dame on January 21, but the Orange better be ready for a challenge tonight in Louisville. The Orange have lost their last seven games to the Cardinals, their last win coming six years ago (Louisville’s first season in the Big East). To stave off another Louisville upset, Syracuse has to play strong defense and turn Louisville over. The Cardinals rank #218 in turnover percentage and Syracuse is among the best in the nation in creating steals and points off turnovers. The Orange fast break is absolutely lethal, quite often sparked by Dion Waiters off the bench. Waiters is #4 among individuals in steal percentage and Louisville has been vulnerable to giveaways all season long. Syracuse is the better team but it must play with poise and toughness on the road against a team that will play hard for all 40 minutes with a raucous home crowd cheering them on.
  • Louisville is going to have to make outside shots and stop Syracuse from getting out in transition in order to win its eighth consecutive games against the Orange. Louisville shot the three well in two games last week, going 44% against Connecticut and 46% against West Virginia (season average = 32.8%). Look for Rick Pitino to put Kyle Kuric on the free throw line in Louisville’s zone offense, using the versatile senior to hit the mid-range shot, pass, or drive to the rim. Kuric and point guard Peyton Siva have to probe the zone cautiously but can’t be lulled into passing the ball around the perimeter. To beat Syracuse, Louisville must attack the zone north/south rather than east/west. The Cardinals must shoot the ball well to win, no ifs, ands or buts about it. That’s not a strength for Louisville but Syracuse puts up a lot of points. Louisville must keep pace and put forth a strong defensive effort. Gorgui Dieng has the potential to have a similar impact as Fab Melo defensively. If that’s the case, Louisville may be able to force Syracuse into contested jumpers in their half court offense. Dieng and Melo are incredible presences in the paint so you’d have to think the team that does best in transition and shoots the best from mid-range should win the game.
  • If Syracuse is going to lose another regular season game this season, this is it. Pitino has flat out owned Jim Boeheim over the last half decade, coming up with schemes to score against Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone. Pitino’s issue this season is that his team doesn’t shoot threes well (despite last week’s success) and struggles to score in general. Louisville likes to press and a faster tempo could play right into the hands of the Orange. Louisville has Wayne Blackshear healthy for the first time this season after playing 20 minutes in Saturday’s win over West Virginia. Blackshear could be a key factor in the game because he adds depth and scoring ability to a Louisville lineup that is one of the few that comes close to Syracuse in terms of depth. The Orange are still much superior in that category but Louisville can rotate players in and out, keeping them fresh for 40 minutes. This should be a close game with Louisville’s shooting ability likely to be the determining factor.

#7 Kansas @ Kansas State – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

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Tracking The Four: Perception vs. Reality

Posted by EJacoby on February 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Public perception dictates a lot in all sports — suits in Las Vegas determine which teams are favored to win games. Players are often labeled as ‘clutch’ or ‘not clutch’ based on arbitrary public sentiments that take no data into account. With much of the college basketball season already completed, players and teams have already developed reputations that become a part of the season narrative; Murray State has ‘played nobody’, Indiana is ‘soft’, Syracuse is the ‘deepest team’, and UNLV ‘can’t win on the road’. But are these sentiments really accurate? This week’s TT4 Wildcard takes the court of public opinion on trial and tries to separate what’s false from what’s reality. All four of our teams remained ranked in the polls, so they’ve been plenty exposed to public chatter:

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana is Trying to Shake the Label that They're Soft on Defense (AP Photo/T. Ding)

Biggest Misconception – This team is soft defensively

The Hoosiers have certainly had their defensive struggles during Big Ten games, and the results were ugly for a while. They still average a 109.0 dEfficiency in conference play, which is much too high. But soft? That label needs to go, as Indiana has shown much improvement and is starting to fight back when they get hit in the mouth. In their last four games against Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois, they are allowing just 64.3 points per game. They’ve improved their Big Ten rebound rate to 51.9%, which is fourth in the conference. Defense is still an issue, but give them credit for making strides after beginning the Big Ten with an extremely tough schedule.

Biggest Truth – They are extremely balanced offensively

The word ‘balanced’ gets thrown around with this team, but it’s looking more and more true. Cody Zeller is their clear best player, but they don’t exactly use the freshman as a go-to guy offensively. Consider this: in their last five games, Indiana has had four different leading scorers and seven different players have scored in double-figures at least once. Not only that, but IU ranks in the top 30 nationally in three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, true shooting percentage, and points per possession during conference results. They are an effective offense that attacks in several different ways.

The Unknown – The Hoosiers are a product of their home-court advantage

IU has certainly played much better at home than on the road, which is true of many teams. But there was a feeling that their Assembly Hall home-court was the catalyst to everything this team does, and that argument is starting to fall apart. They’re coming off a 17-point win at Purdue in their latest road game, and their offensive style has translated to opposing arenas. The jury is still out, though, whether they are a strong enough team to win multiple games in a row away from home. The Big Ten Tournament should be a good indicator, as well as their final two winnable road games at Iowa and Minnesota.

Murray State Racers

Biggest Misconception – This team is headed for the bubble

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Tracking The Four: Syracuse Gets Melo & Its Swagger Back

Posted by EJacoby on February 7th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

What made Syracuse look so beatable in the past three games? Perhaps the answer is as simple as we thought, and Orange big man Fab Melo is just that important to the team’s success. He returned on Saturday and the Orange completely ran St. John’s off the floor in a performance worthy of a number one team. Meanwhile, Indiana and UNLV each split their two-game schedules full of tough road matchups. Murray State continues to cruise along undefeated and is getting closer to its big matchup with St. Mary’s. Let’s see how each team got it done this week:

Syracuse Orange

Michael Carter-Williams Had the Memorable Highlight from Syracuse's Dominant Win Last Week (AP Photo)

  • Trending UP Because… – They put together perhaps their best performance of the season on Saturday by scoring nearly 100 points on the road at St. John’s in their only game of the week. Center Fab Melo returned from suspension for the game and had a solid individual performance (14 points, two blocks, 5-6 shooting), but it’s the collective play of the team’s defense and transition offense that is more telling of his impact. The Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East) held its opponent to 38% shooting on two-point attempts, whereas they were allowing an average of 44.4% in three games without him. Melo was on the receiving end of several lobs in transition as the team consistently found easy offense in the 95-70 win. The Cuse look to have their swagger back and will try to keep up this strong form with two home games this week.
  • This Week’s Key CogMichael Carter-Williams. This week was a reminder of how truly deep this team is. Carter-Williams is a McDonald’s All-American freshman averaging just 12 minutes per game this season, and he looked like the best player on the floor during his 17 minutes against St. Johns’s. The frosh had 13 points on 5-6 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover in limited playing time.
  • Play of the Week – This was a no-brainer, as our guy Carter-Williams throws down a vicious dunk in transition that was one of the top plays of the week.
  • Talking PointMelo talked about his return to the team after a three-game suspension: “I had fun. It felt good to be back on the court with my teammates. I felt a little rusty and I wanted to do everything at once but Coach told me to slow down and I did.”
  • Coaching Legend - Jim Boeheim continues his ascent up the coaching wins list. Saturday’s victory was the coach’s 879th career victory, tying him with Dean Smith for third all-time. The only men ahead of him are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, with Knight’s 902 victories a very passable number next year.
  • Stats Central – Although Kentucky owns a near unanimous top ranking, the Orange have the far more impressive overall resume. If the season ended today (which, of course, it doesn’t), then Cuse would be the top overall seed of the NCAA Tournament, boasting the #1 RPI ranking and 12 victories over RPI Top 100 teams. Kentucky has seven Top 100 wins, by comparison.
  • What’s Next? – Syracuse has two tough opponents this week, but both games are at home. First comes rival Georgetown on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET, ESPN), followed by struggling Connecticut on Saturday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Hoyas look like the second best team in the Big East right now, and the Huskies could be playing for their postseason lives come this weekend. It’s never easy against these talented conference rivals.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They did lose last week to a team in the mid-70’s of the RPI, but it was a two-point loss in Laramie against tough conference foe Wyoming. The Rebels had several chances to tie or win the game on their final possession of the game, and we can’t knock the team very much for this tight road game. They also easily disposed of Colorado State earlier in the week at home. UNLV (21-4, 5-2 MW) remains in good shape in the Mountain West and has a huge matchup coming up on Saturday.
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